Production Blog

A behind the scenes peek at rehearsals, artistic choices, artist interviews, and the daily business of running a theatre.

A word with playwright Erik Forrest Jackson about the inspiration

Q: Your funny, thought-provoking, and deeply human new play deals with some interesting themes from the trials of adolescence and growing up to gender identity to family dynamics to the pressures young people feel and are under in the age of social media. What was the source of inspiration for this play and what has your process bee like writing and developing the exciting piece?

A: First off, I’ve got to state that it’s been a real honor to debut this work with Stage West, which consistently executes such care and intelligence with their productions. Their embrace of challenging theater and insanely high caliber of playwrights I’m in the company of this season thrill me to no end.

So, to answer your question, I began work on Like A Billion Likes about three years ago, but before it was one play, it was two.

In the immediate wake of the Caitlin Jenner media blitz, I was struck by how several camps quickly formed and faced off. Of course, there were the expected passionate detractors and supporters. But I found another camp quite a bit more compelling: those people who were at sea, struggling to comprehend just what was happening, both in Jenner’s life and in the cultural at large.

I was writing two different plays at the time. One was about a Texas teen who was desperate to get noticed. Another was about a gender nonconforming teen who was determined not to. When I developed the character of a floundering high school principal - the type of guy who would be flummoxed by Jenner and also quietly furious at the erosion of his cis male dominance - I had a lightbulb moment and realized he was a bridge that linked the two in-progress plays. I married the plots and started bumping these struggling, deeply flawed characters up agains one another, and things aligned in surprising new ways.

The piece became an exploration of assumptions and appropriation, of relationships forged out of opportunism and out of a genuine yearning to connect in a rapidly fragmented world - all amplified by the clumsy, inescapable bullhorn of social media.

I hope the play will shake up perceptions, pop some preconceptions, and maybe even make audiences laugh as they hopefully recognize in these characters aspects of their neighbors and maybe even themselves.

 

A chat with BJ Cleveland about putting on the halo

Q: What a role - the Almighty! You certainly have immeasurable experience performing for DFW audiences as one of the premiere talents in our region, and have a long history of fantastic roles and brilliant performances. For you, what is different about this play from others you’ve done, and what most excites you about performing this critically acclaimed new script for the DFW audiences who know and love you so well?

A: Well, THAT was certainly a wonderful intro - It makes God happy! I think it is every actor's dream (and sometimes greatest fear) to work towards a one-man show format – quite a marathon of storytelling on our part. Although I am blessed to have two other wonderful actors, Doug Fowler and Parker Gray, as my "Wingmen" to share the experience, I cover about 93.5% of the lines. It's hard to imagine a role that would come with so much history (infinity), thought, reverence, and pre-conceived notions as the Almighty himself. So, no pressure there, right?

I'm a very physical actor, so the fact that I'm in the Heavenly Lounge sitting and visiting with the audience and not relying on a lot of physicality to tell my stories (or remember them) is a challenge for me (although, there is some hilarious physical comedy and even a song and dance!).

But the script by David Javerbaum (of The Daily Show) is funny, thought-inducing, irreverent, and surprisingly sentimental; I relish the words and re-telling the stories we grew up with in Sunday School from an original perspective. And specifically, talking about Junior (Jesus Christ to you) from a parent's point of view. It's hard not to get choked up. It's new, fresh, and funny. 

So come with an open mind, open heart and exposed funny bone - it will be tickled. 

Of course, GOD has taken over the body of B.J. Cleveland for the night, (and THANK GOD I'm available), so no there's NO telling what HE will say or do!

A word with director Harry Parker about the seriously funny

Q: This highly comedic and fun play is chock-full of laughs and hilarity, but also has some interesting things to say. What do you find most intriguing about the script, and what excites you most about directing this production?

A: For me, the most interesting thing about David Javerbaum’s An Act of God is the way he seasons what is largely a comic spin on God and the Ten Commandments, with moments of serious insight and some thoughtful ideas for the audience to ponder. Javerbaum has carefully modulated these two disparate elements into a carefully balanced evening that is designed to primarily entertain, but also to challenge. There are so many wild, hilarious, and controversial positions espoused by God in this play, that I seriously doubt that An Act of God will line up exactly with any single audience member’s individual theology. But that really isn’t the point. Javerbaum’s quest is to create a hilarious commentary on our concept of God, and he’s happy to provoke the audience along the way to accomplish this. Audiences will enjoy the play most thoroughly if they are able to laugh at religion a bit, and also at themselves.

Pages